“EcoLeaders” program fits VCU sustainability initiatives

Austin Walker
Staff Writer

A program created last year by the National Wildlife Federation is offering VCU students the opportunity to lead and create community programs focused on sustainability and conservation.

EcoLeaders, an offspring of the NWF’s Campus Ecology Program, has generated a platform for students to devise or join projects, network with leaders of other community projects and potentially gain recognition from the NWF — the largest private, nonprofit conservation organization in the United States.

Careers in the field of environmental sustainability are increasing in demand as tax incentives motivate businesses to hire specialists to reduce their business’ carbon footprint.

Courtney Cochran, program coordinator for NWF’s Campus Ecology Program, is also the online manager for the EcoLeaders program.

“We surveyed and talked to a number of current college students and asked them if this was something that they want and something that’s appealing,” she said, “so we built a tool based largely on the feedback, and so far it’s been something very successful.”

The program has yet to boast any VCU participants, but student organizations and VCU Goes Green offer similar opportunities, and could label themselves as a national program if they collaborated with the NWF.

“(Students) might not be majoring specifically, or have the opportunity to major specifically, in environmental science or sustainability but it’s something they’re interested in,” Cochran said. “(They) want to know that they can prepare for a career in that field outside of their direct major.”

This program could prove very beneficial to VCU students, because despite the school’s push to go green, the university does not offer bachelor’s or master’s degrees in sustainability.

VCU students’ closest option to a degree in envionmental sustainability is a certificate of completion in Globalization and Sustainability from the School of Business or a cross-disciplinary certificate in Sustainable Innovation.

“Since I’ve begun my career, (sustainability initiatives) have really grown at an amazing rate,” said Erin Stanforth, VCU’s director of sustainability.

Stanforth said when she was younger she had no intention of working in her current field, but after accidently signing up for a class, she realized it was something she enjoyed. She now has her master’s degree in sustainable business from Marylhurst University.

Stanforth was hired for her current position at VCU in April 2014. She said she has worked on several hands-on and agricultural development projects throughout her education and career.

These are the same kinds of programs that the NWF’s EcoLeaders program provides students across the country to participate in.

There are also student organizations, like 0-Waste RVA, that participate in local government and hold projects that promote and implement conservation and reduced waste efforts.

The VCU Office of Sustainability held a town hall meeting last week where faculty and students were encouraged to voice any suggestions or concerns regarding VCU’s current sustainability efforts.

This was the first event of its kind at the university and was intended to continue effectively reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions at VCU.

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